The primary contribution of this research is to clarify the aerodynamic performance of a novel lightweight turbine blade with internal cooling passage and external film cooling, which is invented aiming at drastic weight reduction of a cooled blade. With a considerably thinner airfoil, a significant separation region is formed along the pressure side, and therefore aerodynamic performance with such a flow field should be investigated.

First, the lightweight cooled airfoil is designed. In the design process, a conventional thick airfoil is first defined as a baseline. With the baseline airfoil, only the mid and rear part of pressure side profile is redesigned to thin the airfoil without any change in the suction side geometry. The airfoil geometry is optimized so as not to bring significant aerodynamic loss increase. In this numerical optimization, the airfoil shape is gradually changed and evaluated step by step. In every step, an adjoint variable method is used to seek better airfoil shape, and then the generated new shape is evaluated with full RANS calculation. This iteration is repeated until any further recognizable weight reduction cannot be obtained without sensitive pressure loss increase and/or the airfoil shape reaches some geometrical constraints. The resultant optimized airfoil is approximately 20% lighter than the baseline hollow airfoil without any noticeable change in aerodynamic loss in the numerical solution.

Next, the optimized airfoil is tested in a high speed linear cascade rig to verify its aerodynamic performance. The baseline airfoil is also tested for comparison. The rig is composed of six airfoil passages. The compressed air is supplied to the cascade and discharges to the atmospheric exhaust chamber. The air is also heated up to about 540 K upstream of the cascade. The cascade exit Mach number at the design point is 1.25, while in the experiment other several off-design conditions are also tested to check if there is any Mach number sensitivity. At the design point, the optimized lightweight airfoil shows less total pressure loss compared to the baseline airfoil. Also, at any other off-design Mach number conditions tested, the magnitude of the pressure loss is less with the lightweight airfoil. These results verify that the proposed airfoil does not only bring a considerable weight advantage but also compares favorably with the conventional airfoil in aerodynamic performance.

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